Polar bears in Canada’s Western Hudson Bay — on the southern edge of the Arctic — are continuing to die in high numbers, a new government survey of the land carnivore has found. Particularly, bear cubs and females are suffering.
Researchers surveyed Western Hudson Bay — home to Churchill, the town called “the Polar Bear Capital of the World” — by air in 2021 and estimated there were 618 bears, compared to the 842 in 2016, when they were last surveyed.
“The actual decline is a lot larger than I would have expected,” said Andrew Derocher, a biology professor at the University of Alberta who has studied Hudson Bay polar bears for nearly four decades. Derocher was not involved in the study.
Since the 1980s, the number of bears in the region has fallen by nearly 50%, the authors found. Their survival depends on the disappearance of the ice.
Polar bears rely on Arctic sea ice — frozen ocean water — that shrinks in the summer with warmer temperatures and forms again in the long winter. It is their preferred food and they hunt by perching on the thick ice near holes to find seals. The Arctic is warming twice faster than the rest of the globe because climate changes , sea-ice cracks earlier in the year, and takes longer to freeze in fall.
That has left many polar bears that live across the Arctic with less ice on which to live, hunt and reproduce.
Polar Bears are more than just a critical predator in the Arctic. They were the most well-known and respected face of climate change for years before it began to affect people all over the world.
Researchers said the concentration of deaths in young bears and females in Western Hudson Bay is alarming.
“Those are the types of bears we’ve always predicted would be affected by changes in the environment,” said Stephen Atkinson, the lead author who has studied polar bears for more than 30 years.
Young bears require energy to grow. They cannot live long without food, and bears that are females have a hard time because of the energy they spend caring for their offspring.
” “It raises questions about the continued viability,” Derocher stated. “That is the reproductive engine of the population.”
The capacity for polar bears in the Western Hudson Bay to reproduce will diminish, Atkinson said, “because you simply have fewer young bears that survive and become adults.”
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